Kids are taught that sports are all about fair play, doing your best and upholding the integrity of the game. However, most professional athletes know that’s a load of crap. Winning by any means necessary is a constant in pro sports and a lot of athletes love to take that to extremes. It was truly common in the older days where rules were less strict and hard play was expected if not encouraged. Fans wanted a good time with a game so a lot of guys were more than willing to give that. It’s lessened a bit in recent years with the rise of legal issues and worries about the aftereffects of injuries but we still have guys willing to break the rules to get ahead.
Some guys take it a bit too far however. They take the idea of “any means necessary” too literally and cause a lot of damage. Many are cases of guys from back in the older days where such harder play was common but we still have some in modern times as well. These are guys who get by with any methods they can, biting, clawing, punching and more. It’s not so much cheating as just getting ahead and not caring much who they hurt along the way. It’s no surprise many of these are from the worlds of football and hockey, which regularly involve a lot of physical contact but other sports have their share of hard hitters too and sneaky cheats as well. Here are 20 athletes who took play to the extreme and didn’t mind much how many bruises they dished out to get ahead.
20 Gaylord Perry
19 Marty McSorley
18 Karl Malone
17 Dave Schultz
No team in NHL history was as wild and nasty as the 1970-75 Philadelphia Flyers. And no Flyer was as nasty as “the Hammer.” The unofficial leader of the “Broad Street Bullies,” Schultz was certainly talented, a key reason the Flyers won back to back Stanley Cups. But he was also the more ruthless and feared enforcer on the ice, still holding the record for the most penalty points in a single season. He would usually go without a helmet in play, making his hits all the more spectacular and went out of his way to smash a guy, even if the play didn’t require it.
16 Jack Tatum
Tatum didn’t just not mind being nicknamed “the Assassin,” he relished it, even using it in the title of his autobiographies. Even by the standards of the 1970s Raiders, Tatum was a brutal and harsh figure, his hits brutal and rough as he would go out of his way to target guys for serious slams. He was a great player in his own right, a three time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion which took some edge off his wild style but not by much.
15 Dennis Rodman
14 Ndamukong Suh
On Thanksgiving Day 2011, the entire nation got to see Suh’s style on full display when he blatantly stomped on Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith , three times on his chest and once on his arm and was immediately tossed out. A year later, he followed it up by kicking Texans quarterback Matt Schaub in the groin. Both times, Suh claimed they were just accidents but no one bought it due to the man’s already high reputation for dirty play.
13 Billy Martin
In his playing days, Martin was regarded in two ways: a top-notch player and one of the roughest guys in baseball. He would get into brawls constantly off the field but saved some of his best for on it. He threw a bat at pitcher Jim Brewer and followed it up with a sucker punch that cracked Miller’s eye and launched a harsh lawsuit. You would always see Martin in the middle of a bench-clearing brawl and was suspended for all of 1970 for his part in a bar fight. He famously slipped a middle finger into his 1972 Tigers baseball card that wasn’t noticed until its release.
12 Ron Artest
11 Gilbert Yvel
A key reason it was hard for the general public to take MMA seriously in the early days was because of guys like Yvel. The Netherlands native was skilled and imposing but far better known for his tactics that crossed the line way too often. He was disqualified for biting Karimula Barkalaev and poking the eyes of Don Frye. In November of 2004, he shocked everyone by knocking out the referee after he held Yvel back and kicking the guy on the mat.
10 Tiger Williams
9 Duncan Ferguson
8 Bill Romanowski
7 Vinnie Jones
6 Bill Laimbeer
A major reason so many hated the late ‘80s Detroit Pistons was Laimbeer himself. He wasn’t as good on his feet as others on the team but he made up for it by elbowing, shoving, hip-knocking and choking every chance he got. He would earn numerous fouls but also claim being fouled himself with “flops” that would have been too theatrical for professional wrestling yet so many refs fell for it and called them his way. Laimbeer would get in constant fights and often be shown with a black eye from an altercation either on or off the court.
5 Kevin Muscat
Soccer is known for brutal stuff but Muscat took it to such a degree that he was proclaimed “the most hated man in football” by opponents. His actions go from “heat of the moment” to full-on criminal assault such as his infamous hit on Matty Holmes so vicious that Holmes nearly lost his leg. He’s added many other victims to his attacks, brought before the FIFA board and earned 123 yellow cards and 12 red cards and numerous suspensions.
4 Hardy Brown
If Hardy Brown took to the Marines with the same intensity as he used playing football, then God help the enemy. His hits were so hard that officials constantly checked his shoulder pads to make sure he didn’t have metal plates inside. He prided himself on his hard demeanor, boasting of knocking out 21 opponents in 1951 while playing for San Francisco.
3 Ulf Samuelsson
2 Conrad Dobler
1 Ty Cobb
A memorable moment in “Field of Dreams” is Shoeless Joe Jackson saying Ty Cobb wanted to be among the ghosts playing in the magical field “but none of us could stand the SOB when we were alive so we told him to stick it!” The joke works as it wasn’t too far from the truth. While a fantastic player, Cobb was also brutal, sadistic, savage, surly, cursing and violent and those are the nicer things you can say about him. He made it a point to slide into bases with spikes out, more than ready to slice opposing player’s legs and wasn’t above drilling a ball right at a guy rather than make a play. This is the man who ran into the stands to punch a fan who had lost all but three fingers on both hands to an industrial accident. Even his own teammates couldn’t stand him and if not for his excellent play, he’d have been thrown out of the game easily.
There was also Cobb’s beliefs. Even in a time when open bigotry was accepted, Cobb’s racism was appalling as he cursed black people with every name imaginable, refused to bunk with a teammate who supposedly had “darkie blood” and would literally spit on some he passed by. He was still an ornery bastard in his twilight years, picking fights with retired players over stuff that happened on the field decades earlier. His talent is sadly overshadowed by a personality of a man who didn’t care who he hurt to get ahead and why only three people from baseball bothered to attend his funeral.
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